“Why are shape-shifting soldiers from another universe stealing frozen heads?”
With that question alone, “Momentum Deferred” went up a full point over last week’s dreadful Fringe episode. And I gave it another full point for introducing two potentially useful new characters, and for presenting us with the long-awaited—and premise-riffic—flashback to Olivia’s meeting with William Bell. If the whole episode had maintained the “yes we're aware this is kinda nutsy” tone of that one great line, I’d have bumped it up one more notch to the A-level. I’m holding back only because “Momentum Deferred” was such an info-dump, and played a fraction too soberly.
Still, the Fringe I like best was back in spades this week, including in the pre-credits sequence. We begin at a Cryonics facility in Medford, MA, where a routine transfer of mummy-wrapped head-sicles gets hijacked by two soldiers of The First Wave. Who are the soldiers of The First Wave, you may ask? According to William Bell—more on him in a moment—they’re the malleable, literally mercurial dudes from Earth-2 who’ve been making life miserable for Fringe Division. And they’re swiping heads from various cryogenics labs because they’re on the lookout for a special omega-like mark at the base of one of the heads’ scalps. One of the hijackers in the opening scene gets shot—repeatedly—and bleeds mercury until he dies. The other drives off to a quiet, rural spot where he shaves the heads and drops them down an embankment. (Plot nitpick: Is this the best method of head disposal? I mean, I know this guy’s from another universe, and I know that head-dropping looks cool and funny on TV, but if it’s going to take a while to find Omega Head then leaving clues laying around higgledy-piggeldy may not be a great idea.)
While the survivig First Waver is playing barber, Evil Charlie arrives for a status update. Evil Charlie is dying from being stuck in one body for so long—he’s slurring his words, and buying thermometers so he can pour their life-restoring mercury into Icee cups—but he’s determined to wring all the information he can out of Olivia before he goes. To that end, later in the episode he interrupts Olivia’s meeting with Nina Sharp by falsely warning Olivia via text that Nina’s a shape-shifter. As it happens, Olivia’s in the process of receiving data on her PDA that will confirm the identity of the real shape-shifter, but before she learns definitively that it’s Charlie, not Nina, she spills to E.C. what she was about to spill to Nina: the location of the Omega Head.
And how does Olivia know where the Omega Head is? Because William Bell told her. Weeks ago. And it’s all coming back to her thanks to an elixir of foul-tasting blended flatworms that she gulped down as a memory-jogger. (Walter had meant to mix in some strawberries, but Olivia just went for it.) Throughout the episode, Olivia has flashes of memories from her Earth-2 visit, but when Peter rings a bell in Walter’s lab she passes right out, and recalls her meeting with William (Bell!) almost in full. Here are a few tidbits from that converation:
-When she was a little girl and being experimented on, she called him “Willem,” and he called her “Livvy.”
-While she’s on Earth-2, she experiences disorienting time-slips, though other people who make the jump often get ripped apart.
-Bell inhales some sort of gas: perhaps oxygen, perhaps something that helps him stay rooted on Earth-2.
-Bell insists that he and Walter “weren’t trying to hurt anybody” with their experiments. Olivia reminds him that they actually hurt a lot of people. (Character nitpick: Olivia hasn’t been as judgmental with Walter lately as she was for a while last season and as she is with William here. Seems inconsistent.)
-Bell is looking for a guardian to watch The Gate between universes. The First Wave—who are human-machine hybrids—are looking for someone to open The Gate. That someone is Omega Head.
-Bell, citing the existence of the WTC towers on Earth-2, says, “I know the difference a wrong choice can make. Or a right one.” (But which one led to the prevention of 9/11?)
-Bell gave Olivia the Greek phrase to say to Peter, and he also gives her the phrase “a storm is coming” to alert Nina.
When Olivia wakes up from her flashback, she demands to speak to Nina. (And Nina, when she hears that Olivia has spoken to William, immediately cancels her flight to Hong Kong.) Which brings us back to where we were earlier in this write-up. Olivia bails on her face-to-face with Nina and she tells Evil Charlie where Omega Head is. Then she realizes Evil Charlie is evil and she shoots the mercury out of him until he powers down, permanently. But it’s too late. The First Wave has found Omega Head, and they have a headless corpse to attach it to. They’re ready to open The Gate, and as Nina explains to Olivia—with two glass snowglobes as props—that could mean the destruction of one of the universes.
As I said, I enjoyed this episode and I’m excited for what comes next. I’m especially looking forward to carefully weighing William Bell’s warning that “Momentum can be deferred, but it must always be paid back in full.” He says it to explain to Olivia why she’s about to go flying through a car windshield, but I imagine it has even larger implications. William and Walter have been doing a lot of tampering with their two worlds, in part to delay the coming war, and in part for their own selfish reasons. Some measure of remittance may be at hand.
If so, I hope it comes with the mix of creep-outs, action beats and wry humor that I expect from Fringe. Tonight was good, but was a little light on all three. I like that this is the kind of show where a character can say, with a straight face, “You just yanked me into a parallel universe to warn me about an inter-dimensional war that I believe you are responsible for starting.” I just hope that the people writing those lines realize how goofy they are, and are putting them out there anyway because—as is often the case with Lost—they’ve decided to go for broke. It’s great to make the choice to play this kind of over-the-top sci-fi/fantasy straight. So long as it really is a choice.
-I thought it was a neat bit of symmetry that both Olivia and Evil Charlie were in a drinking mood tonight: her with worms, he with mercury.
-The most significant of the two new characters we met in "Momentum Deferred" was Rebecca, who we’ve seen before as a younger woman, on Walter’s videos of his old experiments. Rebecca used to be able to spot visitors from Earth-2—and apparently recognized Peter as an impostor when was a baby—but she’s lost the gift, so Walter puts on some Yes, doses her with hallucinogenics, and tries to see if she can get her mojo back. Instead, Olivia has her freak-out and Rebecca’s talents aren’t needed to track down The First Wave. (Yet.) Walter then accompanies Rebecca back to her home because even though the drugs aren’t in her system any more, Walter would like to be.
-The second new character was Nina’s goofy scientist employee Brandon. (“I can log you into our server. Public server.”) I hope we see him again. A little levity never hurts on a show about the possible end of the world.
-There were lens flares like crazy on Earth-2. And was my memory faulty or were they a different color over there?
-How awesome was Leonard Nimoy as Bell? I mean, c’mon.
-Which version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers do you prefer? Don Siegel or Philip Kaufman? Personally, I think Abel Ferrara’s is underrated.
-Two truisms in this episode: “A little cannabis before bedtime does wonders,” and “Physics is a bitch.”